May is Asian Heritage Month and the CAHS would like to celebrate one of Canada's great pilots of Asian descent, Cedric Mah, who recently passed away. From battling prejudice in the RCAF, to flying "The Hump" during the Second World War, to bush flying in Canada's Northwest and Arctic, his career illuminates so many aspects of aviation history.
(1922 - 2011)
Cedric Mah was a legend in Edmonton's aviation community, so it was only fitting his memorial was held at the Alberta Aviation Museum. On Friday, May 6th at 3pm the large British Commonwealth Air Training Plan-era hangar was filled with friends, family members and his fellow volunteers who had come to honour him. As we all filed in, we were invited to sign the guest books which, in keeping with his life, were pilot's log books.
The memorial was mc-ed by Tom Hinderks, executive director of the museum, and a friend of Cedric's for twenty years. After the playing of the "Last Post" and the "Reveille," a 2008 news story about Cedric was projected onto a large screen. For several minutes "Ced" was there in the flesh, talking about his love of flying and the many stories that made up his 88 years.
From his sighting of his first aircraft at the age of three, he was determined to fly. He saved his money and finally went on his first flight in 1935 when he was 13 years old. Unable to get his pilot's licence in Canada because of racism, he went south to California. When he returned, rating in hand, he was able to become an instructor for the BCATP in Winnipeg and Edmonton, training under Wop May.
What he really wanted, though, was to fly. So he joined the Flying Tigers, taking C-46s over the Himalayas - or "The Hump" as it was known. They didn't carry parachutes, he said in the video, because if you were forced to bail out over those forbidding mountains, "it wouldn't do you much good." While he never crashed, he did run into some icing troubles once and in order to stay aloft threw millions of dollars worth of American currency out the hatch. Shangri-la, indeed!
His work flying in Canada's hinterland wasn't much safer, and in 1962 his flight went missing. After several weeks he was found, but ever-interested in documenting life, he filmed the entire experience.
Other stories were recounted by his close friends and mentioned his stubborn nature and his apparently good singing voice, but everyone kept circling back to his incredible achievements in aviation. As historian for Canada's Aviation Hall of Fame John Chalmers noted:
"In my association with aviation matters, I frequently have the opportunity to meet with veteran flyers of both the Second World War and other fields of aviation. I consider it a privilege to spend time with such people, and Cedric Mah was one of them. I always enjoyed hearing his stories and marvel at the accomplishments of both himself and his late brother Al Mah, both exceptional pilots. They rose above prejudice of the times to make outstanding contributions in their careers as pilots. Cedric is one of those who has contributed to our aviation heritage, and will be remembered with fondness by all who knew him. Fly on, Cedric, the skies are all yours."
More information about Cedric's long and varied air career can be found in the following:
- Interview with him for "Heroes Remember - Canadian Chinese Veterans"
- For a video of a 2008 news story on Cedric, please click here
- His write-up on the web page of the China National Aviation Corporation/Flying Tigers
- Shirlee Smith Matheson's Flying on the Frontiers vol. III in the chapter "So What Do You Want to Do? Live Forever?"